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Habeas Corpus Suspension Act2

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act2

Due process rights and the precedent of “innocent until proven guilty” are two essential virtues held by most Americans. So much so that due process rights are enshrined in the Bill of Rights through several Amendments and that the protection of habeas corpus is in the text of the U.S. Constitution. However, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, these protections changed. The suspension of habeas corpus by Abraham Lincoln is one of the more politically controversial acts taken by his administration during the years of the Civil War. What does habeas corpus mean? What did the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act do? Why is it controversial? And what is its lasting significance?

Habeas Corpus: Civil War

“The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” - U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 9

As the United States became embroiled in the Civil War in the spring of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln witnessed new threats to the Union beyond the secession of the southern states. In April, the Baltimore Riots of 1861 erupted as pro-Union militias, volunteers, and military personnel began to move into the region around Washington, D.C., in preparation for military action and clashed with pro-South sympathizers. In response to these riots and other conflicts, Lincoln ordered the military to suspend habeas corpus in the high-population regions of the Union (Washington, Philadelphia, and New York), where these soldiers were gathering en masse.

Habeas Corpus: Latin for “bring forth the body,” a legal writ forcing government authorities to justify their arrest and detention of an individual. Rooted in English common law, habeas corpus was a legal privilege in the U.S. Constitution under Article I, Section 9, allowing suspension during insurrection or invasion. During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus to deter anti-Union activities.

The court ruled against the order in June 1861, stating that the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus was a power reserved for Congress, not the president or by military action, as the writ of habeas corpus is expressly written in Article I of the Constitution as a power of the legislature. Though Chief Justice Roger Taney made the ruling, as he made the ruling on behalf of a lower court, Lincoln and his administration ignored the order, maintaining that the suspension would only be administered in regions controlled directly by the military.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863

During the summer of 1861, Congress dealt with dozens of bills and acts on subjects that had no precedent as the country fell apart and turned to armed conflict. In July 1861, several bills granting Lincoln emergency powers and approving his actions taken in the spring - such as suspending habeas corpus and calling up an army after the attack on Fort Sumter in April - were presented. Still, many were not brought to a vote. The conflict between the states turned into a debate in Congress over the constitutional powers of each branch of government. What those powers may be as states seceded and Senators and Representatives of those states withdrew from Congress.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act / Chief Justice Roger Taney / StudySmarterFig. 1- Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the court order against the executive power of Lincoln to suspend the writ, stating it was a power granted to Congress.

In several of these bills, the action to suspend habeas corpus was granted to Lincoln, but over and over, the clause was struck down as debates over its wording continued. Eventually, the session of Congress ended in August 1861 with no resolution but an agreement to address the issue in the next session.

During this time, in the fall of 1861 into the spring of 1862, Lincoln and his military commanders used the suspension cautiously. Arrests under the rest continued, but at the same time, Lincoln released political prisoners and offered them amnesty. Eventually, he suspended the writ throughout the country to ensure no one could interfere with his administration of a military draft.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863: Passed by Congress in March of 1863 and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, the act gave the president the executive power to suspend the Constitutional writ of habeas corpus during the American Civil War.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act /Thaddeus Stevens / StudySmarterFig. 2- Thaddeus Stevens, who introduced the original language of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act

In the winter of 1862, Congress opened, and Representative Thaddeus Stevens immediately introduced bill H.R. 591, which granted the president the power to suspend the writ and secure any actions the president took since the suspension occurred in 1861. The bill passed the House and moved on to the Senate, where the debate over language continued. For a year, the Senate Judiciary Committee debated the wording; their core issue with Steven’s original bill was that it suggested that the president had always had the power to suspend the writ. The Senate committee worked to reword the statement and sent it back to the House for approval. By February 1863, the House voted in favor of the new bill. Moving back to the Senate, the bill was filibustered by Democrats, who objected to some of the bill's provisions, throughout the evening of March 2nd into the early morning hours of March 3rd. Eventually, the Republicans beat the filibuster, and the bill was passed and signed into law by Lincoln.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act: Transcript

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, during the present rebellion, the President of the United States, whenever, in his judgment, the public Safety may require it, is authorized to suspend the privilege of the write of habeas corpus in any case throughout the United States, or any part thereof.” - Opening provision to the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863 (Source: Library of Congress Archives)

The quote above is just the first provision and sentence of the Act. Through the debates in committee and concern over the balance of power, dozens of other conditions were added to Thaddeus Steven’s first proposal. Some of those provisions were:

    • The acting Secretaries of War and State had to provide a list to the judiciary of every person held as a political prisoner, not a prisoner of war.

    • If these lists were not provided in time, the prisoners were allowed to be released after taking an oath of allegiance.

    • If a prisoner were indicted under a crime that during peacetime would allow for bail, bail would have to be offered.

    • The act restricted and made it difficult for those arrested under the writ suspension to sue any military leaders for false arrest or imprisonment. However, if a trial was granted, it had to be tried in a federal court, and if the military officials won the case, the plaintiffs had to pay double the damages.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act: Purpose

The purpose of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act is twofold. At its core, the first purpose is to grant the President essential military powers to combat espionage, treason, and other acts of war taken by individuals. The suspension of the privilege is not a new concept in United States law, or as a matter of fact, in any nation's military law. It was common to suspend habeas corpus as a protection from foreign military or clandestine interventions.

The second purpose, however, was political and more distinctive to the issues of separation of powers within the U.S. government. Congress worked to preserve its constitutional authority through the act's provisions and rhetoric. Though Lincoln ignored the court order in 1861, the court did side with Congress, that suspending the writ was only a power granted to congress, which means that Congress had to give the power to the executive branch during a crisis. One of the reasons it took nearly a year to debate and write was that these committees in the Senate and the House had to work out the language of giving the power to the president as well as wording the act to limit the ability and give the power back to Congress after the conflict.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act: Significance

First and foremost, the significance of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act is that it established the precedent for the process of how to suspend habeas corpus. It confirmed that Congress retained the power to suspend the writ by granting the Executive Branch the power to enforce the suspension. 1863 would not be the last time the writ would be suspended. In 1867, the writ was partially restored, but some provisions remained restricting habeas corpus during the early years of Reconstruction. In 1871, the Civil Rights Act allowed the suspension of habeas corpus to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan. Habeas corpus was also partially suspended during World War II.

Was the Suspension of Habeas Corpus Constitutional and Legal?

More significantly, the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act and Lincoln’s orders to suspend habeas corpus through military action act as a historical perspective on the legal and political views of Abraham Lincoln and other Republican leaders during this time of unprecedented crisis. Both Congress and the Executive enacted legislation and enforced laws that, to this day, historians debate their legality and political effectiveness.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act / Abraham Lincoln / StudySmarterFig. 3 - A portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

For example, the legality of suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is often connected to the lawfulness of the emancipation proclamation and the dichotomy of the two actions. Lincoln enacted the emancipation proclamation in January 1863, which freed all slaves and people held in bondage in the southern states. His legal basis for this was that the southern states were still a part of the Union, granting him the authority to free slaves in the territory. However, this contradicts the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which can only be given in times of invasion or insurrection, meaning that the southern states were not a part of the Union and acted as foreign entities. This contradiction leads to the debate that if you agree with the legality of one of these actions, the other must be an illegal action. The juxtaposition of the legality, political action, and enforcement of these two acts is still debated by historians.

Habeas Corpus Suspension Act - Key takeaways

  • Habeas Corpus is Latin for “bring forth the body,” a legal writ forcing government authorities to justify their arrest and detention of an individual. Rooted in English common law, habeas corpus was a legal privilege in the U.S. Constitution under Article I, Section 9, allowing suspension during insurrection or invasion. During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus to deter anti-Union activities.
  • The Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1863 was passed by Congress in March of 1863 and signed into law by President Lincoln; the act gave the president the executive power to suspend the Constitutional writ of habeas corpus during the American Civil War.
  • The purpose of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act is twofold. At its core, the first purpose is to grant the President essential military powers to combat espionage, treason, and other acts of war taken by individuals.
  • The second purpose, however, was political and more distinctive to the issues of separation of powers within the U.S. government
  • The significance of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act is that it established the precedent for how to suspend habeas corpus.

Frequently Asked Questions about Habeas Corpus Suspension Act2

Passed by Congress in March of 1863 and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, the act gave the president the executive power to suspend the Constitutional writ of habeas corpus during the American Civil War.  

Passed by Congress in March of 1863 and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, the act gave the president the executive power to suspend the Constitutional writ of habeas corpus during the American Civil War.  

Latin for “bring forth the body,” a legal writ forcing government authorities to justify their arrest and detention of an individual. Rooted in English common law, habeas corpus was a legal privilege in the U.S. Constitution under Article I, Section 9, allowing suspension during insurrection or invasion. 

As the United States became embroiled in the Civil War in the spring of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln witnessed new threats to the Union beyond the secession of the southern states. In April, the Baltimore Riots of 1861 erupted as pro-Union militias, volunteers, and military personnel began to move into the region around Washington, D.C., in preparation for military action and clashed with pro-South sympathizers. In response to these riots and other conflicts, Lincoln ordered the military to suspend habeas corpus in the high population regions of the Union 

Latin for “bring forth the body,” 

Final Habeas Corpus Suspension Act2 Quiz

Question

What does Habeas Corpus translate to from latin? 

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Answer

Bring Forth the Body

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Question

What year did Congress pass the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act? 

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Answer

1863

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What year did Abraham Lincoln exercise his military authority to suspend habeas corpus? 

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Answer

1861

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What even was the catalyst for Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus in 1861? 

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Answer

The Baltimore Riots of 1861

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Question

True or False: The courts upheld Lincoln's wartime power to suspend habeas corpus. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Based on the court order from Chief Justice Roger Taney, who had the authority in the U.S. government to suspend habeas corpus? 

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Answer

Congress could authorize the president to suspend the writ for a specified period of time. 

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Which congressman introduced the original language of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act?

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Answer

Thaddeus Stevens 

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How long did it take congress to move the original bill to become the approved act? 

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Answer

Almost two years

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What was the Democratic opposition to the habeas corpus suspension act? 

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Answer

That it granted the executive branch to much wartime power and it should be strictly limited 

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Question

Approximately how many citizens were arrested under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act? 

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Answer

20,000 

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60%

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